July has been a stressful month for me.

My car is due for its MOT in July, and yet for the first 20 days of the month I did absolutely nothing about it. That’s a lie. About nine times a day I thought to myself ‘I really must check when the car is due for its MOT.’

Turns out you can just look it up on the DVLA website, but in my mind it was a gargantuan task that would involve sorting through masses of paperwork and trying to find last year’s certificate. Or, horror of horror, actually having to use the phone to call the garage and speak to a human being.

(I don’t like using the phone.)

Fortunately for me, on July 2oth I went to an event with Compare the Market, that involved me finding out when my car was due for its MOT!

I know right?! What are the chances? It’s true though. I was testing out a brand new product from Compare the Market, called Simples. It’s currently in beta, but I’m going to tell you a bit about it, and how you can sign up now and be one of the first to try it while it’s still in its testing stage. It’s genuinely a fantastic tool, so do read on. Plus, later in the post I’ll reveal whether or not my MOT turned out to be overdue.



This week I’ve been undertaking a challenge. You know I love anything with a competitive element, so this was right up my street. Not that there really even was a competitive element – not against anyone other than myself anyway, but that’s enough for me!

The idea behind the challenge, which was set for me by NoteMachine, was to see how spending habits have changed, and to what extent we now use card rather than cash, or vice versa. I must say that I’ve never really given much thought to how I spend money, unless I really want a sausage and onion bap from the little sandwich bar around the corner, who only take cash, and so I was interested to see how I got on.

Here’s a diary of my challenge…

Day one – cash

My challenge is to spend three days using only cash and three using only card, but it’s the first day and I’m still not sure which to do first. As I do with most of my serious life choices, I ask Twitter. Consensus seems to be that I should start with cash, as this will be the hardest, and I’m very pleased with this idea indeed, as it’s a Thursday – farmers’ market day in Taunton. The farmers’ market is about a two minute walk from my office, and I do quite like to treat myself to a teeny tiny Japanese chicken curry on a Thursday, and possibly a chocolate brownie. (If they are home made they are wholesome, and therefore terribly good for you.)

I have a momentary panic when I realise I had gone to work without card or cash, but Bee comes to meet me for lunch and saves the day:

So far so good, although there are a couple of things I notice just after one day of cash only; firstly, I took a lot of cash out, because I was afraid of not having it when I needed it. I don’t always carry a bag, and have a tendency to stuff money, old tissues and scraps of paper into my pockets, and then forget about them. I feel immediately like the potential for me to end up out of pocket is greater with cash, as it seems quite lucky that money might literally fall out of my pockets.  View Post


It’s been quite a while since I did a free credit check on myself. In fact, it was about four or five years ago. My partner at the time was applying for a job that had very extensive checks involved and they were going to do a ten year financial check on me, and so I did one too, just to make sure they weren’t going to find anything incriminating.

At the time, I scored 999, which is the very top score you can get. I have to admit that I was pretty pleased with it at the time, as I’ve worked hard over the years to keep my finances squeaky clean.

But that was a while ago, and so when I saw a TV ad for Noddle, the credit check service that offers you free credit checks forever, (rather than one of those where you sign up for a trial and then forget to cancel), I felt like I should give it a go. I was also about to buy a new Mac on credit, and thought it would be useful to make sure I was good to go for that – I didn’t want that horrible embarrassment of a teenage PC World sales assistant telling me I’d been turned down. Nobody wants that. If you do run a credit check on yourself and it’s not good, there are things you can do to improve it – see my tips below – so don’t panic.

Even if you have a good credit history, running a free credit check from time to time is a really good way to help protect yourself from fraudsters. We share so much information about ourselves nowadays, that we do leave ourselves at risk. Think about it for a minute and I bet you can think of someone you know personally who has been the victim of identity theft, even if you’ve been lucky enough to escape it yourself.

You’d think that we’d be more careful as a result, but apparently not. According to Noddle’s research, more than half of us admit to throwing away letters with personal information on them without shredding them first; nearly a quarter of us have loaned their credit card to someone else, and 16% admit to keeping their PIN written down in the same place as their card.


Checking your credit report helps then by flagging up any unusual or unexpected behaviour. It gives you information on current and previous creditors, so you can check that they match your expectations, and shows you other people or addresses that you might be financially linked to. If any of these ring alarm bells, you can then take action.


Free credit check from Noddle

The Noddle set up process was really easy, and it took less than two minutes to enter all of my information. The confirmation process was really simple too – a series of specific questions about my finances that only I would know the answer to. Once the set up was complete, I was emailed an activation link, and it was time for the big reveal…

free credit check service Noddle

free credit check service Noddle

free credit check service Noddle


Now, I have to say, given my previous 999, that I was a little taken aback by this. 580?! I felt a bit like I’d got back a maths test from school and only got a C+, which, quite frankly, has never happened.

I ran through all the basics in the credit check report, and could see that nothing was amiss, so that was reassuring, as I had worried initially that perhaps there had been activity in my name that I didn’t know about. All of my payments were up to date, (clearly shown by lots of green dots rather than red ones), so I dug a little deeper to find out what might be the cause of the lower than expected score.

free credit check service Noddle


Tips to help improve your credit score

From my research, I could see that there might be a few factors bringing my credit score down. If you’re looking to improve your own score, do take these things into consideration:

  • I’ve moved house twice since I got my 999. Frequent house moves can sometimes raise flags for lenders, and this can be reflected in your score.
  • I have a couple of credit cards that I don’t use. You might not think that this is a bad thing, but apparently lenders look at the total amount of credit available to you, rather than just outstanding credit, and so if you have cards with high limits that you don’t use, consider closing these or asking or the limits to be reduced.
  • I’ve had a lot of checks done on my account in the last couple of years. Weirdly, this too can impact your score, and it can happen without you really being fully aware of it, like when you get quotes for insurance. I also had a brief flirtation with matched betting last year, and so had checks from all the bookmakers I opened accounts with. Do keep this in mind as a factor if you’re looking for quotes or doing anything that involves applying for credit. One thing that might help with this is Noddle’s cards and loans matcher tools. Pop in some basic information about yourself, and it tells you which credit cards and loans it thinks you’d be likely to accepting for, before you apply. This doesn’t show on your credit record, so means you minimise the risk of being turned down and clocking up too many unnecessary checks.
  • Repaying loans on time is another way you can improve your credit score. You will become more attractive to lenders because they can see that you can be trusted to pay your debts back on time. Taking out a bank loan can be a great way to improve an already good credit score. But not everyone is eligible for a bank loan. For those of you with a (cough!) ‘less than perfect credit score’, there are bad credit loans available for you, such as those offered by Flexy Finance. Used correctly, they can be an effective step on the way to a better credit score! What’s important is that you make sure you can afford to pay back what you owe on time before taking out the loan. Only borrow what you can afford and make sure you have a borrowing plan in place so you keep up with those repayments.

These are definitely areas of weakness for me, but there are other contributory factors to keep in mind too:

  • How much credit to you have altogether? Higher balances can make potential lenders nervous.
  • Are you on the electoral register? Get on it if not!
  • Are you linked to anyone financially? A joint bank account, loan or credit card with someone with a poor credit record will impact your score too.
  • Have you missed any payments on anything? This is obviously a significant factor, as are any CCJs against you.
The importance of online safety

The research from Noddle has shown that nearly four in 10 people (38%) in the UK have been a victim of fraud themselves. That’s more than 20 million people. That’s a scary figure isn’t it? This is not one of those ‘it happens to other people’ things, this is a very real problem. It’s a problem however that you can take measures to prevent:

  • Don’t just throw away personal documents like bank statements and gas bills – shred them before disposing of them.
  • Don’t keep your PIN number written down somewhere obvious, and especially not in the same place that you keep your card!
  • Regularly check your credit report to help you identify unusual or fraudulent activity.
  • Double check your social media settings and security – how much personal information are you displaying? How strict are you with friend requests? If you’ve a relaxed attitude to security and are sharing your full name, email, date of birth and home town, you could be setting yourself up for disaster…

I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences of using this sort of service and how it has helped you improve your credit score or protect yourself against fraud. If you’re not sure what your credit score is, sign-up to Noddle now and find out!

free credit check noddle

Sponsored post. Image of coins – Singkham/shutterstock.


How much debt do you have?

Most of us are managing debt of one form or another, but often we don’t appreciate the scale of it, or the variety. It builds up – a store card here, a credit agreement for a new computer there – and before you know it, you’re in trouble.

Take me for instance, which we should, as I created this blog especially so that I could be the centre of attention at all times. I don’t think of myself as having a lot of debt; I don’t have a mortgage, I’ve paid off my student loans, (woohoo!), and I don’t have any store cards. Brilliant! And then I remembered that I have a few thousand pounds left on a loan from when I bought a new car a couple of years ago. Not so debt free now am I? And then there’s my new Mac, which I bought on credit a couple of months ago – I have 10 months left to pay that off in full. Oh, and I have a couple of credit cards don’t forget – they don’t have much on, but maybe a couple of hundred pounds each. And then there we are, approaching the £5,000 mark, without even trying.

My point is that debt can creep up on us, and it’s very easy to get in trouble without even realising it, which is why PayPlan have put together a very simple online test to see how well you’re managing your debt and to help you spot any danger signs. PayPlan has been offering free, comprehensive advice, guidance and support for anyone struggling with debt since 1992, so they know what they are talking about.

You know I love a test, especially if it involves a certificate, (which this one doesn’t I’m afraid, but that’s no reason not to make your own), so I got stuck in.

You can take the test yourself here. Do it now, and then come back so we can compare results. View Post


saving tips Aviva

So last week I did this quiz.

It was put together by Aviva, and the idea behind it was to make you think a bit more about your attitude to savings. My result came out as ‘The Enlightened One’ – I apparently have a good instinct for saving, but run the risk of being a bit complacent about it.

I think this sums me up pretty well. I know that I could do most things, if I chose to put my mind to them, it’s just that most of the time I choose to let things tick along as they are and sit down and watch repeats of Alan Partridge instead.

It’s not that I’m lazy…

Heck, who am I kidding? I so am. View Post


financial personality quiz Aviva


You know I love a quiz.

Ideally it’s maths based, with a certificate at the end, and the heartfelt praise of a teacher, but anything will do. The quiz I took I about my potential adult ADHD was a bit scary, but we’ll brush over that one.

A few months ago I did a big overhaul of my pensions. I had accumulated seven separate pots from various jobs, and wanted to get them all in one place so that I could keep an eye on them properly without needing an entire filing cabinet. As part of the process of choosing how to invest, my financial advisor made me do a quiz about my attitude to risk. At the end she was very impressed. Apparently I had one of the highest scores she had ever seen. I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing when it comes to planning for your retirement, but it’s fun. Fingers crossed for me for the Japanese small company market.

I was very excited then to have a go on the Aviva financial personality tool. I think a lot of us go through life without paying a lot of attention to exactly how we manage our money, other than whether or not we pay the bills on time, but understanding your attitude to money, and your strengths and weaknesses, is actually really important.

So, to the quiz. View Post


save money on utilities bills

When was the last time you had a proper overhaul of your utilities? I mean a really good look at it, not just turning your heating down a degree or switching suppliers through a comparison site, just for the free Meerkat.

The average combined family bill in the UK for electricity, gas, water and sewage services, is now over £1,800, which is a hefty chunk of your expenditure every single month. With bills this high though, the good news is that this means there is plenty of scope for savings.

When it comes to utilities, it’s often a combination of lots of little things that work best, rather than one big change, so why not see how many of these you can tick off?

Understand your bills

One of the biggest reasons that we overspend on bills and services is that we simply don’t properly understand what we’re paying for. This video from Home Energy Scotland helps you get to grips with exactly what your bills mean, so you can feel in control of where your money is going. View Post


Today I welcome back Jon from The Money Shed. Jon has written a couple of popular posts for me already – one about earning money from home without having to go near a survey, and another guide to matched betting, and today Jon has a few motivational words for you. I know for a fact that he recently went to America on his earnings from these work-at-home jobs, so he knows what he’s talking about.

ways to earn money from home

I chose this image especially for Jon as I know he’s a big fan of my cheesy stock pictures

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or you work full time you probably feel that you’re pretty busy. It can be very easy to convince yourself that you have a lot on your plate and no time to take on anything else. Frankly this is untrue. 

Watching daytime TV or spending half your work day on your mobile phone is NOT being busy. It may feel important, at the time, as you’re desperate to know what the DNA results are, but you could be putting your time to much better use. View Post


Children and finances tips NatWest

I hope my mum and dad will forgive me for saying that we had what could be described as a ‘financially somewhat turbulent’ childhood. Circumstances did not always work in our favour let’s say. Not that I mind at all. In fact, if anything, lacking financial security as a child has had a lot of positives; it has certainly made me appreciate the value of money, and how important it is to be careful with it

I’m not saying I’m a massive scrooge or anything, I like spending it too, I’m just respectful at the same time. They say that money can’t buy you happiness, and I totally agree with that, but a lack of money certainly isn’t fun, and so it’s important to have a good attitude towards both saving and spending.

As part of my current project with NatWest Money Clip, and with the help of my daughter Bee, who’s now 20, I’ve been thinking about children’s relationships with money, and how this impacts their financial health as adults, to try to come up with some strategies for teaching children about money management. NatWest have some great resources on their Telegraph finance hub too, so do check those out if you’d like more information.

My first question then, to get you thinking – how have your financial experiences as a child shaped your relationship with money as an adult? View Post


money saving tips

How much money have you spent this week?

Chances are, you don’t actually know.

One of my fondest memories of my Gran is the fact that at the end of every day, she’d take out a tiny notebook and pencil from her handbag, (which always smelt of Chanel No 5), and she’d write down every penny she had spent that day. Even when she had plenty of money, she never relaxed that control. She wasn’t tight – she was very generous in fact – but she just liked to know.

We don’t do this so much these days do we? Relatively, we’re so much better off than we were when my Gran was bringing up a young family, and that’s obviously a good thing, but it does seem to mean that we’ve lost that ability to control day-to-day spending quite as efficiently.

It’s time to go retro with your finances, recapture that post-war budgeting spirit and save some pennies. View Post


Dealing with debt Natwest Money Clip

How much debt do you have at the moment?

I’m not trying to depress you – I know January isn’t really the month you want to look at your credit card statements – I’m just curious. You don’t have to say out loud, just have a think and add it up.

Are you surprised? If it makes you feel better, the average UK household debt in the third quarter of last year was £11,800, its highest in five years. As far as I know, this doesn’t include mortgages.

Does that make you feel better or worse?

My own debt is less than this – more like the £4,000 mark – although that’s me personally rather than the household as a whole. Over the last ten years I’ve made a concerted effort to keep the debt I do have under control. Going through university, living an hour’s drive away, and bringing up a toddler on my own, got me into a lot of trouble financially. It took me a long time to take my head out of the sand and actually face up to the debts, let alone pay them off. Now though I’m clear – no bad debts, no student loans left – it’s a great feeling. View Post